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FTC and What You Cannot Be Required to Purchase for Funeral Services

 

Funeral service providers cannot require consumers to buy unwanted or unneeded goods and services to get the items that they do want. Consumers must be able to choose only the goods and services that they want, with certain limited exceptions noted below.

Accordingly, funeral service providers cannot condition the furnishing of any funeral good or service to a consumer on the purchase of any other funeral good or service except for their basic services fee and any items required by law. They also cannot refuse to serve a family because they do not purchase one particular item (e.g., a casket or embalming) or a combination of items or services from the funeral service provider.

In addition, funeral service providers cannot include the charge for an optional item of service (such as embalming) in a non-declinable basic services fee. This would have the effect of making the optional item a required purchase for every customer.

The Rule expressly prohibits funeral service providers from charging any fee, as a condition of furnishing any funeral goods or services, other than the fees for:

  • The basic services of funeral director and staff (the one non-declinable fee allowed by the Funeral Rule);

  • The funeral goods and services selected by the consumer;

  • The funeral goods and services required to be purchased by law (or by the cemetery or crematory), as identified and explained on the itemized Statement of Funeral Goods and Services Selected.

This means that funeral service providers cannot charge an additional fee or surcharge to consumers who purchase a casket elsewhere. Such a fee would not fall within the three categories of allowable charges listed above. This extra "casket handling" fee is simply a hidden penalty for those consumers who exercise the right to purchase a casket from another seller. (One thing the FTC Funeral Rule does not cover is the potential disadvantages of purchasing caskets from a resource other than your local family-owned funeral home--for the other side of the story, read the family-owned funeral home or casket store article.)

Moreover, funeral service providers cannot alter prices based upon the particular selections of each customer. Such a practice also would defeat the purpose of the Rule to give people accurate, itemized price information that affords them the opportunity to select the arrangements they want.

Exceptions

The three exceptions to the consumerís general right to choose only the goods and services wanted are:

  • The one non-declinable basic services fee;

  • Items required by law (or by the cemetery or crematory);

  • Impossible, impractical, or excessively burdensome requests. Funeral service providers do not have to comply with such requests. However, they cannot refuse a request simply because they donít like it or donít approve of it.

Example: During July, a family requests that a funeral occur five days after death, but does not want embalming. The funeral service provider doesnít have refrigeration facilities. The state law does not require embalming under any circumstances. However, in this situation, the funeral service provider can refuse to provide these arrangements unless the family buys embalming. He or she can consider such a request impractical or excessively burdensome.

Note: If customers request an item that funeral service providers do not normally offer, they do not have to comply with the request. However, they are free to do so.

"Free" Items: funeral service providers cannot list any of the 16 items required to be separately itemized on the GPL as "free" or "no charge." Because they recover the cost of the free item in other prices on the GPL, the customer may not have the choice of rejecting the charge. However, funeral service providers can offer items not required to be separately itemized on the General Price List (such as acknowledgment cards) at "no charge," as long as state or local laws do not prohibit this practice.

 

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